The World Health Organization made headlines in March 2018 when it officially named “gaming disorder” a mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association then said it might add gaming disorder to its manual, the DSM. (So far gambling is the only purely behavior-related disorder to be included.) But you’re only a casual video game player, right? Or are you? Here’s how to tell whether a fun pastime for you (or a loved one) has crossed the line into addiction.


You might think one way to spot gaming disorder is to count how many hours are spent playing video games, but that’s not a reliable way to tell whether gaming has become problematic, said Zsolt Demetrovics, PhD, head of the Department of Clinical Psychology and Addiction at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. More important is to look at why someone is gaming.

Playing for fun and to meet people online is not a red flag, but playing incessantly to escape from problems you have in the real world or as a way to cope with your feelings of anxiety or aggression, or to improve mood, is. Gaming can act like a drug, which the brain rewards with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s often called the feel-good hormone. That can make you crave gaming more and more.

Another clue is a change in routine, such as no longer spending time with family and friends or abandoning other hobbies and activities to play video games.

Here are other signs to look for in yourself…

  • Needing to spend more time gaming to satisfy a deep-seated urge
  • Feeling unable to control how much you play
  • Continuing to play after realizing it has become a problem for you
  • Hiding from your loved ones how much time you play
  • Putting gaming above school, job and/or important relationships
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety or sadness, when you can’t play or try to stop playing


The overall number of people experiencing gaming disorder may be up to 1% of the population—with 160 million gamers in the US alone, it means it’s a serious issue for many people.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is addicted to video gaming, the smartest course is to get professional help from a psychologist or addiction counselor. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or other approaches to addiction can help uncover the problems that led to the gaming disorder and allow you to work on them directly.